Last week, the Niagara Falls Reporter was the first in Western New York to break the story that the Seneca Meadows landfill, located in the bucolic Finger Lakes region of New York State, ships millions of gallons of leachate containing the toxic family of chemicals known as PFASs to the Buffalo Sewer Authority, where it ultimately finds its way into the Niagara River.
There are no updates to report on a local level, although it has come to our attention that there have been private conversations among some politicians in cities like North Tonawanda and Niagara Falls, whose source of tapwater is downstream from where the Buffalo Sewer Authority dumps the imported toxic effluent from the Seneca Meadows landfill.
It has now been revealed that the Hochul administration, through its Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), may be preparing the landscape for a renewal of Seneca Meadow’s operating permit, presently slated to expire in 2025. Renewal of the permit would ensure that the Buffalo Sewer Authority could continue to burden the vital Niagara River watershed, and Lake Ontario beyond, with toxic PFASs for decades to come.
DEC Says Methane Spewing Project Complies with CLCPA, Advocates Demand Explanation
Seneca Lake Guardian, an organization from the Finger Lakes that is leading the charge against the landfill, has stated in press releases and elsewhere that the DEC must explain why they directed Seneca Energy to make a change to a proposal to contend that an expansion of their facility is compliant with the CLCPA.
That’s a mouthful. Let us explain.
The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) is a plan signed into law in 2019 to address climate change and reach net zero emissions in New York State. The Act sets the goals to reduce emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and then to 85% below 1990 levels by 2050.
By 2030, New York aims to get 70% of its electricity from renewable sources and by 2040 the goal is to have all the state’s electricity come from carbon-free sources like wind and solar energy.
Seneca Energy is a landfill gas to energy project that monetarily incentivizes Seneca Meadows – the state’s largest landfill – by converting the methane gas the landfill produces and selling it as “renewable natural gas.”
On their initial application to renew their permits, Seneca Energy first concluded that their project does not comply with the greenhouse gas emissions standards set by the CLCPA. However, DEC left a comment on Seneca Energy’s application directing them to state that their proposal does comply with the CLCPA. As a result, the application was revised.
Why did the DEC intervene in such a way? One legal expert affiliated with the opposition characterized it as stunning and unprecedented.
“It is highly unusual for DEC staff to simply direct an applicant to change a statement in a permit application without explaining why the statement should be changed. And, in this case, by directing the applicant to state that the landfill gas project is consistent with the NYS Climate Act, when the applicant’s engineer thought otherwise, the DEC staff bypassed an important opportunity to assess whether the greenhouse gas emissions can be mitigated or whether the project shouldn’t be permitted in light of its total greenhouse gas emissions,” said Phil Gitlen, Senior Counsel atWhiteman, Osterman & Hanna LLP.
“It is incumbent on DEC to ensure that the Seneca Meadows landfill closes in 2025 to comply with the Climate Act and the Climate Action Council’s Scoping Plan,” said Anne Rabe, NYPIRG Environmental Policy Director. “To meet the Climate Act statutory 2030 and 2050 goals, the Plan recommends ‘a dramatic shift in the way waste is managed, to the point that landfills and combustors are only used sparingly for specific waste streams, and reduction and recycling are robust and ubiquitous.’ Good government practices necessitate that DEC reject any request for a permit renewal or expansion. Enough is enough.”
FOIL analysis by Cornell shows overwhelming support for closing state’s largest landfill
The DEC approving the application would go against overwhelming public support in favor of closing the landfill on schedule per a local ordinance in 2025. Owen Marshall, Visiting Assistant Professor at Cornell University, FOILED and analyzed the 475 public comments on Seneca Meadows’ draft scoping plan. Only two of the 475 comments were supportive of renewal of the landfill’s permit. The rest were opposed.